Preparing to focus

Tim Houlihan

Sales professionals, management types and overburdened workhorses, this message is for you. You may think you’re God’s gift to multitasking, but the 60,000-year-old human brain in your cranium has not evolved for multitasking. It is best at focusing on one thing at a time and moving back and forth between different issues quickly.

Before you begin your singular focus session, prepare with these three tricks:

1. Make a plan.

Plans make things better. Your brain is probably fighting this by saying, “Nah, I do great by just winging it.” Michael Jordan’s No. 1 rule wasn’t “just wing it” it was FOCUS and focus takes planning.

Plan for the sales call. Plan for the team meeting. Plan for the performance reviews with your team members. Organizing is not planning, but to plan you’ll need to organize.

2. Write it down.

Duh. Organizing things in your head is way different than writing them out. Hand writing or typing into your tablet, mobile phone or laptop are all superior to just thinking it through in your head.

When you write things down, you instantly benefit from two things:

You rework your plan as you write it down. This is significant because it allows you to take the plan you’ve already been thinking about and improve it simply by writing it down.

You have a record to return to and improve. With the plan written down, you have a physical list, so you can use your brain for editing (requires less energy), and not creating (requires more energy).

3. Let your brain rest.

Once you write it down, you can let your subconscious wrestle with the plan, which is a powerful and extremely efficient way of helping you focus. The magical, subconscious mind is working away – efficiently – when our bodies are otherwise resting, like when we sleep or work out.

Writing it down in advance of the event gives your brain time to rest and it allows focus that is otherwise unavailable to you.

Focus and parenting

Here’s an example of focus and distraction and good planning all wrapped up in a story that still bugs me about my parental behavior.

When my daughter was 10, she complained of not feeling well as she headed off to school. I could see it in her face – she looked punk. The thermometer verified she was running a 99.9F fever. I had an important presentation that morning and was intent on not missing it. (Yes, I was a bad dad.) If her temperature reached 100F, she would not be able to go to school. I gave her an ibuprofen, walked confidently with her to the bus, gave her a hug and said she was going to feel better soon. In an instant, I was on my way to work. (Yes, I was a bad dad.)

However, the week leading up to the presentation, I had rehearsed and tweaked the deck. I had worked out responses to potential questions and issues that might come up. I laid out every imaginable step of the meeting with my team and we’d discussed how we would use the time to share our content.

Needless to say, when I arrived at work, I was distracted by my bad-parent behavior. I kept waiting for my phone to ring with the school nurse reminding me that I was a bad dad. I was expecting the call to include a stern message from the school nurse letting me know my daughter needed to be home resting and not at school. I couldn’t concentrate.

But because I had focused on the presentation earlier, made a plan, wrote it down, and rehearsed it in advance, the distractions I had over being a bad dad didn’t get in my way. The presentation ended successfully. The planning paid off. Working through the nits and nats with the team paid off. The writing and editing paid off. And when I was leaving the conference room, the inevitable call from the school nurse came advising me to pick up daughter. Her temperature had reached 100F. (Yes, I was a bad dad.)

I’m not advising anyone to do what I did. I don’t mean to be overly dramatic, but it was not my finest hour of parenting. But the benefits of planning became clear to me that day and I hope they become meaningful to you, too.

Failing to plan is planning to fail

Don’t get misguided into thinking that this is only about planning. It’s not. It’s about leveraging planning to help you do one thing that your brain craves: focus. You’ll be more successful in whatever you do because of it.

Sales & Marketing Management is the leading authority for executives in the sales and marketing field.

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